Heaven according to the Bible

Category: The End Times 288 0

What comes to your mind when you think of Heaven? Floating around on some clouds playing harps; wearing nothing but white for all eternity? These are only some of the common beliefs that most Christians have about their eternal home. However, what a majority do not realize is that these closely held beliefs are false. They are not found in Scripture. They are not what Jesus, the apostles, or the prophets taught about the life to come. In this article, I will examine the basic teachings about Heaven that are found in the Bible. These teachings are none other than that Heaven will be this current earth restored to a sinless paradise, that is, a redeemed Eden. Skeptical? Let me convince you otherwise.

Our ignorance of heaven is so bad that I was shocked when I read about what one pastor believed about the hereafter. He said that he was depressed whenever he thought about heaven. In fact, the pastor admitted that he would rather cease to exist rather than go through “that endless tedium.” He continued, “To float around in the clouds with nothing to do but strum a harp…it’s all so terribly boring. Heaven doesn’t sound much better than Hell. I’d rather be annihilated than spend eternity in a place like that.”[1] Writer John Eldredge says it well when it comes to these kinds of beliefs:

“Nearly every Christian I have spoken with has some idea that eternity is an un-ending church service…We have settled on an image of the never-ending sing-along in the sky, one great hymn after another, forever and ever, amen. And our heart sinks. Forever and ever? That’s it? That’s the good news? And then we sigh and feel guilty that we are not more ‘spiritual.’ We lose heart, and we turn once more to the present to find what life we can.”[2]

This is sad. Christians for many centuries have held to a view like this. Thankfully, it is wrong. Equally false is a second view of Heaven that teaches that the “new earth” of Revelation 21:1 will be a brand new planet which will be a replacement for this world after God destroys it. I will show in this article that the new heaven and new earth that God will bring about are the present heaven and earth that are instead restored and not destroyed. This world is our home now and forever.

Restoration

The theme of restoration runs throughout many passages in Scripture. Often these verses are overlooked or interpreted in some “spiritual” way. Yet, when we study them closely, we will see a pattern – a pattern that teaches that God’s creation will be redeemed at the second coming of Jesus Christ. These passages include: 1) Matthew 19:28-29; 2) Acts 3:21; 3) Colossians 1:15-20; 4) Ephesians 1:9-10; 5) Romans 8:19-22; 6) 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1; and 7) 2 Peter 3:10-13.

2 Peter 3 and Revelation 21 are usually seen as passages that confirm that the world will be destroyed. However, an examination of these verses says otherwise. We will also take a look at the basic vocabulary that Scripture uses when discussing salvation, which interestingly, point towards restoration and not annihilation.

  1. Matthew 19:28-29 is the first passage to study. It is here that Jesus speaks about a restored world. He says, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or fathers or mothers or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (emphasis mine). Notice that Jesus speaks about the “renewal of all things” and says that at the same time that his followers will receive “eternal life.” Theologian Randy Alcorn notes that the Greek translated “renewal” “comes from two words which together mean ‘new genesis’ or ‘coming back from death to life.’”[3] The idea is that something that is dead will come back to life. This implies a continuation of something in the past and something in the future and not a destruction followed by a replacement.
  2. In Acts 3:21, Peter says that “[Jesus] must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.” The Greek for “restore everything”[4]indicates that the passage is referring to all of creation, not just people.[5]
  3. Colossians 1:15-20 teaches that through Christ, God will “reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” In this passage, it is taught that Christ created all things. The Greek that is translated into “all things”[6]is used in repetition in these verses. Paul is teaching that Christ created and sustains all things, and “He will also redeem all things by the blood of His cross.”[7] Notice that Paul says that Jesus will reconcile things on earth and in heaven.[8] Scholar Douglas Moo summarizes this passage well when he says, “Through the work of Christ on the cross, God has brought his entire rebellious creation back under the rule of his sovereign power…What Col. 1:20 teaches, then, is not ‘cosmic salvation’ or even ‘cosmic redemption,’ [universalism] but ’cosmic restoration’ or ‘renewal.’”[9]
  4. Paul also teaches in Ephesians 1:9-10 that all things in heaven and on earth will be brought under the rule of Jesus. J. Richard Middleton, in his book A New Heaven and a New Earth, explains the significance of this verse:

“Here salvation (God’s plan for the fullness of time) is understood as gathering up or unifying in Christ that which has been fragmented (perhaps alienated) through sin. And this unifying action is applied comprehensively to ‘all things’ in heaven and on earth (v. 10). Since ‘the heavens and the earth’ is how the first verse of Genesis describes the cosmos that God created in the beginning, Ephesians 1 effectively proclaims that eschatological salvation will be as wide as creation.”[10]

  1. Another passage, and perhaps the most important is Romans 8:19-22. Here Paul teaches that when Christians receive their resurrection bodies (at the Second Coming of Christ), the entire creation will be liberated (set free) from the curse of sin and decay. According to this passage, creation was subjected to frustration (sin) by God and is now awaiting the revealing of the sons of God (Christian’s resurrected bodies) so it will be liberated. In-depth studies of this passage indicate that the word creation means the sub-human world (animals and the rest of the universe). The teaching in Romans 8 mirrors that of the other passages above.
  2. Next, we have a “new heaven and new earth.” This phrase is found in 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1. For most readers, these verses seem to confirm that the present creation will be destroyed and God will create a “brand new” universe. However, a closer look at these verses points toward an interpretation that is consistent with the passages that we studied above.

The Greek that is translated “new” in English does not necessarily mean something that is brand new. The sense of the word is that of “being repaired and refurbished.”[11] The Greek word in 2 Peter and Revelation is kainos, which “indicates a newness in terms of quality,” which is different from another Greek word that is also translated “new” (neos), which indicates “newness with respect to time.”[12]

What is really interesting is that the New Testament uses kainos predominantly when referring to a change in quality or essence, especially in passages which relate to eschatological or redemptive-historical transitions.[13] Alcorn summarizes kainos well by noting that it means “not the emergence of a cosmos totally other than the present one, but the creation of a universe which, though it has been gloriously renewed, stands in continuity with the present one.”[14]

Worth noting is that Paul uses this same word in 2 Corinthians 5:17 when he speaks of a Christian becoming “a new creation.” The new earth will, in fact, be the same earth that we currently live on now, just as a new Christian is the still the same person that he was before but without sin.[15]

  1. Lastly, we have 2 Peter 3:10-12: But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.”

This passage is probably one of the most popular for those who believe that the world will be completely destroyed.[16] However, like “the new heaven and earth” before we will see that Peter is not teaching a creation that will be obliterated by fire, but one that will be purified by fire.

Three Stages of History

The first thing that the reader must understand is the context of this passage. In 2 Peter 3:3-7, 13, Peter tells his audience of three different stages of world history: 1) the world before the Great Flood; 2) the present world (that will be destroyed by fire), and 3) the new heaven and new earth. The three stages of history are separated by two cosmic judgments: The Great Flood and the judgment by fire.

In speaking about the judgment by fire, Peter is drawing a parallel between it and the Great Flood. The world before the Flood was destroyed by water just as the present world will be destroyed by fire. The Deluge of Noah’s day was devastating, but it did not completely obliterate the world. We are still living on it as I type this. The present earth (between the two judgments) will also continue to exist after the judgment by fire.[17]

The Judgment by Fire

There is more to this argument as well. The King James Version of the Bible translates 2 Peter 3:10 as “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.”

The Greek word translated “burned up” (katakaesetai) does not appear in the oldest Greek manuscripts. Instead, these manuscripts contain another Greek word (heurethesetai) that is best translated as “found.”[18]

What is interesting about this word is that the usual meaning (“found”) does not fit the context of 2 Peter 3:10.[19] Scholar Albert Wolters has come to the conclusion that this word indicates not a destruction of the world, but “a smelting process from which the world will emerge purified.”[20] The meaning of the passage would then indicate not a fire that destroys, but a fire that will purify the world as fire purifies metal.

Peter also uses words that mean “to dissolve,” “to melt”, and “to burn.” Interestingly, one of the Greek verbs (pyroomai) that he uses for “burn” is regularly used for metals heated in a smelting furnace. It is interesting that the Greek verb (kaiomai) which means “to burn” in the sense of something going up in flames is absent in this passage.[21] Wolters notes:

“The apostle is describing the Day of the Lord in the terms of cosmic elements which, as the result of intense heat, become incandescent and melt. They do not ‘burn up,’ as is frequently imagined. To use the language of contemporary scientists in describing nuclear accidents, the future cataclysm is not a ‘burnup’ but a ‘meltdown.’”[22]

The prophet Malachi looked at judgment day as a refiner’s fire. Malachi 3:2-3 says:

“But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver”.

Let’s now quickly go back to the original Greek word that the older manuscripts have (heurethesetai). The passive form of heurisko appears in 2 Peter 3:14: “Be zealous to be found by him without spot or blemish.” The meaning is that Christians should “be found” just like the new heavens and new earth will “be found.”[23]

This seems to indicate that just as Christians will be purified after the judgment, so will the heavens and earth. “In Peter, it seems, heurethenai can have the connotation ‘to have survived,’ ‘to have stood the test,’ ‘to have proved genuine.’” Even more support for this is found in 1 Peter 1:7 where the passive form of this word (heurisko) is used to describe surviving a purifying fire (in an eschatological context as well).[24]

It seems clear that this passage does not refer to the destruction of the world, but of its purification. As scholar Cornelis Venema has said, “2 Peter 3:5-13 confirms, then, the basic idea also expressed, though in different language, in Romans 8.”[25]

The Basic Words for Salvation

The final argument for a renewed world that I want to discuss is the basic vocabulary that is used for salvation. These words indicate a return to something good that has been lost. These words are “redemption,” “renewal,” “reconciliation,” and the word “salvation” itself.

1) To redeem something is to “buy free,” which means literally to “buy back.” The image that it calls forth is to that of a free person being kidnapped and someone paying a ransom to free the kidnapped person from bondage.

2) Renewal means “a making new again.” Something that was once new but has been worn out is now renovated and brought back to what it was before.

3) Reconciliation gives the image “of friends who have fallen out, or former allies who have declared war on one another. They have become reconciled and return to their original friendship and alliance.”

4) Finally, the Greek word for salvation, soteria, has the general meaning of “health” or “security” after being sick or in danger. One scholar sums it up well when he says, “All of these terms suggest a restoration of some good thing that was spoiled or lost.”[26]

Middleton says, “salvation is conceived not as God doing something completely new, but rather as redoing something, fixing or repairing what went wrong; this point is expressed in the language of restoration, reconciliation, renewal, and redemption found in these texts.”[27]

Conclusion

Alcorn sums up the arguments here: “When Christ returns, God’s agenda is not to destroy everything and start over, but to ‘restore everything.’ The perfection of creation once lost will be fully regained, and then some.”[28] What Christians have believed for centuries, that we will spend an eternity in some kind of spiritual world floating around on clouds playing music, is not biblical. Instead, we will live on this earth, in this universe, with God himself.

What do you think? Are the arguments in this article biblically sound? Why or why not? Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to this site (using the button towards the top right-hand corner of the page).

 

Do you want to know what life will be like on the New Earth? Click here to begin a series on the possibilities. Click here to read about your resurrected body.

 

[1] Randy Alcorn. 2004. Heaven (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2004). 5-6.

[2] John Eldredge. The Journey of Desire: Searching for the Life We’ve Only Dreamed Of (Nashville: Nelson, 2000). 111. Quoted in Alcorn, 6.

[3] Alcorn, 92. Craig Blomberg, (Matthew. In “The New American Commentary.” Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992. 301) believes this verse is about the new heavens and new earth. He also notes that the Greek for “renewal of all things” (palingenesia) refers to the “regeneration” or “new birth” of something although he also notes that it was the technical term used by Greco-Roman philosophy “for the dissolution and recreation of the cosmos.” R.T. France (Matthew. In the “New Bible Commentary.” Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994. 930) says that the renewal “suggests the ‘new heavens and new earth’ of the Messianic age.” John MacArthur (The MacArthur Bible Commentary. Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2005. 1161) thinks that this is referring to the Millennium and not the new heavens and new earth. He interprets the verse this way because he believes that the creation will be annihilated and that the new earth is brand new (however, see the rest of this article for a refutation of that idea).

[4] The Greek for “restoration of all things” is apokatastaseos panton. This appears in the genitive neuter construction (panton) “of all things”. Ron Minton. “Apostolic Witness to Genesis Creation and the Flood.” In Coming to Grips with Genesis: Biblical Authority and the Age of the Earth. Ed. Terry Mortenson and Thane H. Ury (Green Forest: Master Books, 2008). 349.

[5] Minton, 349. J. Richard Middleton. A New Heaven and a New Earth (Grand Rapids: Baker House, 2014.) 157. Alcorn, 90. However, I admit that words can have different meanings depending on the context. Since Scripture teaches that unbelievers and demons are not saved, it is clear that “everything” in this verse cannot mean literally every single thing in creation. What “everything” includes will be apparent as you continue to read this article.

[6] ta panta.

[7] Minton, 358.

[8] Middleton, 158-159. Alcorn, 125-126. Douglas J. Moo. “Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49/3 (September 2006): 471-473. Moo notes that every occurrence of “all things” in these verses refer to the created universe and not only humans. The mention in verse 20 to “things on earth or things in heaven” would also include “the spiritual beings that play so prominent a role in the background of the Colossian controversy…The context therefore requires that [panta] be unlimited in its scope” (p. 471-472).

[9] Moo, 472. He also notes that “If the natural world is included in the scope of the ‘all things’ that Christ rules as mediator of creation, it must also be included in the scope of the ‘all things’ that he rules as mediator of reconciliation” (p. 473).

[10] Middleton, 158. Also see Alcorn, 46, 102-103.

[11] Andrew Kulikovsky. Creation, Fall, Restoration (Geanies House: Christian Focus Publications Ltd., 2009.) 274. Also see G. K. Beale. The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text. The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999). 1040. George R. Beasley-Murray. Revelation. In the “New Bible Commentary” (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994). 1453.

[12] Kulikovsky, 274; Beale, 1040. William Hendriksen. More Than Conquerors (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1967). 198.

[13] Kulikovsky, 274.Beale, 1040.

[14] Alcorn, 155.

[15] Ibid. Middleton, 205-206.

[16] Tim Lahaye. Revelation Revealed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999). 355-356. John F. Walvoord. The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966). 305-306, 311. Grant R. Osbourne. Revelation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002). 729. MacArthur, 1942.

[17] Alcorn, 154. Albert Wolters. “Worldview and Textual Criticism in 2 Peter 3:10.” Westminster Theological Journal 49/2 (Fall 1987), 408. Richard Bauckham. Jude, 2 Peter. In the “Word Biblical Commentary” Vol. 50 (Waco: Word Books, 1983). 299. Middleton,195. Cornelis Venema. The Promise of the Future (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2000). 467. Douglas J. Moo. “Nature in the New Creation,” 467, 469.

[18] Wolters, 405. Kulikovsky, 273. Also see Alcorn, 154-155.The NIV translates it “laid bare,” and the English Standard Version translates it as “exposed.” Bauckham, 316, 319, 321. Middleton, 161-162, 193-194. Douglas Moo. 2 Peter, Jude. In “The NIV Application Commentary” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996). 190-191. Moo, Nature in the New Creation, 468. Venema, 468.

[19] Kulikovsky, 272-273.

[20] Wolters, 408. Also see Middleton, 162, 191, 194-195. Venema, 467-468. Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 202. Moo, Nature in the New Creation, 468.

[21] Wolters 408-409.

[22] Ibid. 409.

[23] Ibid. 410.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Venema, 469.

[26] Albert M. Wolters. Creation Regained. 2nd Ed (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005). 69-70. Italics in original. See also Alcorn, 88-90.

[27] Middleton, 163.

[28] Alcorn, 153-154.

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